… it looks like the House did at least one thing right on the Farm Bill.
It’s not huge, monetarily speaking. It’s not a Competition Title or millions more dollars for community food projects. But you may recall a few weeks back when, en route through Wyoming, I ranted about the roadblocks that USDA slaughter regulations throw in front of smaller-scale meat processing facilities. Well, the happy news is that the House, in all its (occasional) wisdom, passed a provision allowing state-inspected meat to be sold across state lines, assuming the state’s standards "meet or exceed" the USDA’s. That’s great news for smaller meat producers who can’t get their animals into the giant USDA-inspected facilities and for those living near a state line.
[Parenthetical lapse into fascinating slaughter-related data: In1983, 1,500 federally-inspected beef packing plants slaughtered 35 million head of cattle. Fourteen of those plants could slaughter more than 500,000 head of cattle per year. By 2003, the number of plants in the U.S. had fallen to 689, but 24 of them could slaughter over 500,000 head each, and 13 could slaughter more than a million head per year. That's a LOT of cattle in a short amount of time. And you can bet that none of these plants want to touch the local rancher's measly 100-head brood; they only roll with the big producers.]
Lest you worry, as I did, that the "meet or exceed USDA standards" requirement included in the House bill will prove too much of a burden for state facilities, let me put your mind at ease. Ever since the passage of the Wholesome Meat Inspection Act and the Wholesome Poultry Products Act in 1967, all state inspection programs have been required to have standards "at least equal to" those of the USDA. Since they’ve been doing it all along, they shouldn’t have any trouble meeting the requirements in the House bill. As Brian Levy tells us in the journal of the New Rules Project, "Today, state meat inspection programs cover about 3,000 smaller plants that account for about 7 percent of all meat and poultry products consumed in the United States." That may not sound like much– but for small mid-sized livestock producers and processors, it’s quite a bit. And Levy’s article suggests that interest in building more small-scale, state inspected processing facilities is only growing.
There were other positive provisions in the House bill, many of which were outlined in an e-mail update I received today from the Community Food Security Coalition. It should appear on their website soon if it hasn’t already, so keep checking. The bill is far from perfect, though– very far. Now all eyes shift to the Senate, and we’ve got lots more opportunities to push this Food and Farm Bill in the right direction.
Yeah– this process is long and tiring. It’s like the final scene in a bad horror movie: just when you’d expended all your energy bludgeoning the intruder [that's my twisted analogy for conducting pro-reform advocacy on the Food and Farm Bill], he jumps back up and you have to do it all over again. But I was inspired last night by a passage from Buffalo for the Broken Heart, the same book I was reading in Wyoming and which I am pathetically still not through (it’s been a hectic month). The author, Dan O’Brien, is describing his mental state as he stares down the barrel of yet another freezing winter on the prairie. "You can only look forward to a South Dakota winter," he says, "if, as with childbirth, remodeling a house, or writing a novel, you’re able to forget how bad it was the last time." Let’s clear our heads, take a deep breath, and jump back in.